Saturday, May 21, 2005

Headline Clarification

The Drudge Report ran the following headline today:

UN INSPECTOR PAINTS BLEAK PICTURE OF SADDAM'S JAIL

I do wish my readers, if any, to know that, portrayed in this careless fashion the incident in question is both infammatory and highly midleading. Although the story is tagged "developing," I thought I should at once lay out the thoroughly innocent facts of the matter, before I become subject to a media frenzy of fanciful accounts and wildly irresponsible accusations.

Yes, the UN Inspector has been to my home and office on several occasions, but he is a chance acquaintance, no more. I have never inquired into his profession and manner of earning his living, beyond noting teasingly that he seemed to live rather extravagantly for a man who rarely did any work, and who seemed to have vast amounts of free time when he wasn't jetting first-class hither and yon. It was none of my affair, and I found him a cheerful and engaging companion, occasionally intemperate in his celebrations -- and, I was given to suspect by his occasional smirking asides, greatly so in his manner of living. But as I say it was none of my affair, he was an affable chap, and if he was a bit too quick to pick up the check at the finest restaurants, and a bit too ready to pay for the finest seats at concerts and the theatre -- well, I'm a man of modest means, just as happy tossing an ale at the local tavern, or staying at home to watch a rented movie, and it was at his rather overbearing insistence that we frequented pricey venues with their gloss and glitter and flowing spirits and flittiing beauties. He was always quite proper, never failing to invite my wife, who nonetheless generally declined, as she had taken a marked dislike to him, for reasons that were never quite clear to me. Perhaps she disliked his pencil moustache, his monocle, his ivory cigarette holder, his flawless wardrobe, the inevitable buttonhole flower, the diamond stickpin in his cravat, the ever-changing glassy-eyed blonde clutching precariously at his elbow -- "He's a creep," she'd whisper. "Get rid of him." "But, " I'd say, "He's a UN Inspector. Really, he's a good fellow, lots of fun." "Go if you want," she'd sneer, "but count me out." "Fine," I'd say. "Fine."

But that's all there was to it, for the most part: some cocktails, some parties, some nights out with the stylish set. As to the rest of the headline, well, the manner in which we'd initially become acquainted is that I'd admired a few of his paintings in a small gallery I frequent on my lunch hour. He happened to overhear my commenting on his delicate brushwork and sense of color to a companion, and had introduced himself. I take a purely amateur interest in the arts, but if I may say so I do have a keen eye and no little critical acumen. So we instantly hit it off, had a thorough and engaging conversation, with the result that I was several hours late getting back to work, somewhat to my embarrassment. (Followers of my professional career will of course be aware that the very notion of falling behind in screening corporate protocols is laughable, but appearances must be maintained, and I usually make every effort.)

The long and the short of it is that at some point during our acquaintance he offered to give me "a casual watercolor" he'd been working on. I was secretly thrilled, but initally insisted I couldn't accept it, that it would fetch a good price for him in the galleries. "Bleak," he laughed. "I want you to have it, truly. The painting, ah, it is just a pastime. Money is of no interest to me. Do take it, for the sake of our friendship. Now...where's that waiter?"

I'm something of a formalist, so the nominal subject matter of a painting is of merely accidental interest to me. My interests are shape, balance, light, the delicate geometries of aesthetic space. That it depicted a "jail" is to me, and to the artist from what I know of his interests, merely a sly reference to the vertical symmetries that comprise the schemata of this brilliantly wrought piece. Yes, I hung the painting in my study. And many have seen it there, openly displayed. But there is nothing untoward about any of this, regardless of any insinuations by the penny press and other guttersnipes.

So, you see, "UN Inspector Paints Bleak Picture" is on the face of it entire false. The gentleman painted the picture, yes, but he did not paint it for me, which seems to be the contention. He painted it; he gave it to me on an impulse. Not that I see what possible relevance it might have had if he had painted it for me. Big deal. I don't always understand these matters of slavering public hysteria. Similarly, with "jail:" vaguely true, as though it mattered -- again, what relevance? As to it being "Saddam's Jail" -- how the bloody hell should I know whose jail it is? And what sort of gibbering literalist would attempt to place such a banal construction on the subject matter in any case? Surely no one with a speck of aesthetic instinct.

This "Saddam" is apparently someone or other, and the inclusion of his name, rather arbitrarily I would think, in a statement concerning a minor personal matter of no conceivable public interest, is the sort of thing that sells newspapers in our crude age. If there is an outrage here, it is that of my having to waste precious time -- when I might be considering lofty matters -- in denying nonsensical assertions.

Simply, and once and for all: The inspector did not paint Bleak a picture. He painted a picture, then gave it to Bleak. Enough. Enough! I say.

It's a good thing the duelling pistols are in storage...